LORD Knight of Weymouth has criticised the government for rushing through an emergency data retention law that critics say is a “serious expansion of the British surveillance state.”
Lord Knight, the former South Dorset MP Jim Knight, slammed the government for its handling of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP) after the law was rushed through the House of Commons and the House of Lords this week, and called for a public debate on the matter.
The new law is aimed at telephone and internet service providers, outlining their legal obligation to retain communications data on each customer. This data includes when calls were made, what numbers were dialled and other information that can be used in investigations, and can be accessed by the UK's law enforcement agencies, such as the police and GCHQ investigating criminal offences.
DRIP is in response to the ruling of the European Court in April that the previous legislation was in breach of human rights, and the government has said that the bill has not created any new laws and was just replacing the old legislation.
Speaking in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Lord Knight said it was a "disgrace" the way the law was rushed through by the Home Office.
He told the Echo today: “They had three months to work out the European Court ruling but have only given parliament three days to figure something out which is very important to our privacy.
“All of the Lords agreed the government haven't handled it at all well and that they were taking liberties with the judgement.
“There should have been a public debate about it, there is an urgent need for the public to be involved in it and to understand that all of their online data can now be stored and accessed by the government.”
Explaining to MPs the reason behind the law being dealt with so quickly in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May said: “If we delay we face the appalling prospect that police operations will go dark, that trails will go cold, that terrorist plots will go undetected. If that happens, innocent lives may be lost."
Critics of DRIP have said the new law would impact upon the public's privacy and give the government more powers to snoop on members of the public, and a group of 15 academic experts on technology law sent a letter to the government, saying the new law would be a “serious expansion of Britain's surveillance state.”
Lord Knight said he wasn't against the new ruling, but felt the public should have been consulted.
He said: “There are questions about the balance of security and privacy and whether it is the right balance.
“Part of the bill maintains the status quo and allows the Emergency Services to collect and intercept data from companies that tells them where you are and what you are doing, to allow them to pursue potential terrorists and criminals.
“Maintaining that status quo is fine but I think the public aren't comfortable that they are now able to hold data from all of us.
“I'm not trying to suggest that we shouldn't allow the police and GCHQ to those powers.
“What's more questionable is that the bill allows the government, in law, to be able to get the content of information we give to companies who are based overseas.
“That is essentially everyone who uses the internet.
“Now, that might be the right thing to do but to push it through after three days of parliamentary debate, with no proper debate in public or the media is wrong.
“If the public are happy with the fact that if more of their data is stored in exchange for more security and safety, then that is fine but because it has been rushed through so quickly we do not know how the public feel.”